Catalog Navigation
Office: Varian, Room 342
Mail Code: 94305-4060
Phone: (650) 723-1439
Web Site:

Astronomy courses are offered primarily through the Physics department, with subject code PHYSICS on the Stanford Bulletin's ExploreCourses website.

Although Stanford University does not have a degree program in astronomy or astrophysics, teaching and research in various branches of these disciplines are ongoing activities in the departments of Applied Physics, Electrical Engineering, and Physics.

For the convenience of students interested in astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology, a course program for undergraduate and graduate study is listed in the "Astronomy Cognate Courses" section of this bulletin. The list includes introductory courses for the student who wishes to be informed about the fields of astronomy without the need for prerequisites beyond high school algebra and physics. Courses in astronomy numbered below 100 are designed to serve this group of students. Astronomy courses numbered 100-199 serve the student interested in an initial scientific study of astronomy. The courses numbered 200 and above are for graduate students and advanced undergraduates, subject to prior approval by the course instructor.








Undergraduate Programs in Astronomy

The University does not offer a separate undergraduate major in Astronomy. Students who intend to pursue graduate study in astronomy or space science are encouraged to major in physics, following the advanced sequence if possible, or in electrical engineering if the student has a strongly developed interest in radioscience. The course descriptions for these basic studies are listed under the appropriate department sections of this bulletin. Students desiring guidance in developing an astronomy-oriented course of study should contact the chair of the Astronomy Program Committee. The following courses are suitable for undergraduates and are recommended to students considering advanced study in astronomy or astrophysics:

PHYSICS 100Introduction to Observational Astrophysics4
PHYSICS 160Introduction to Stellar and Galactic Astrophysics3
PHYSICS 161Introduction to Cosmology and Extragalactic Astrophysics3
GS 222Planetary Systems: Dynamics and Origins3-4
Students planning study in astronomy beyond the B.S. are urged to take:
PHYSICS 262General Relativity3

The above-mentioned courses are required for physics majors who choose the curriculum with a concentration in astrophysics (see the "Physics" section of this bulletin).

Stanford Student Observatory

The student observatory, located in the hills to the west of the campus,  is equipped with a 24-inch and other small reflecting telescopes.  It is used for instruction of the observation-oriented courses, PHYSICS 50 Observational Astronomy Laboratory and PHYSICS 100 Introduction to Observational Astrophysics

The Department of Physics offers a minor in Physics with a concentration in Astronomy.

Minor in Physics with Concentration in Astronomy

Students wishing to pursue advanced work in astrophysical sciences should major in Physics and concentrate in astrophysics. However, students outside of Physics with a general interest in astronomy may organize their studies by completing one of the following Physics minor concentration programs. 

Students who take the 20, 40, or 60 series at Stanford in support of their major may count those units towards the minor.

An undergraduate Physics minor with a concentration in Astronomy requires the following courses:


For students whose majors do not require the PHYSICS 40 or 60 series:

PHYSICS 21Mechanics, Fluids, and Heat4
PHYSICS 23Electricity, Magnetism, and Optics4
Modern Physics
and Modern Physics Laboratory
PHYSICS 50Observational Astronomy Laboratory3-4
or PHYSICS 100 Introduction to Observational Astrophysics
Select two of the following:6
Stars and Planets in a Habitable Universe
The Origin and Development of the Cosmos
Black Holes and Extreme Astrophysics


For students whose majors require the PHYSICS 40 or 60 series:

Select one of the following Series:14-17
Series A
Electricity and Magnetism
Light and Heat
and Light and Heat Laboratory
Foundations of Modern Physics
Series B
Mechanics and Special Relativity
Electricity, Magnetism, and Waves
Quantum and Thermal Physics
Introduction to Laboratory Physics
And take the following three courses:
PHYSICS 100Introduction to Observational Astrophysics4
PHYSICS 160Introduction to Stellar and Galactic Astrophysics 3
PHYSICS 161Introduction to Cosmology and Extragalactic Astrophysics 3
Total Units24-27

Students are also encouraged to take the electricity and magnetism/optics lab of the appropriate PHYSICS series , PHYSICS 24 , PHYSICS 44 or PHYSICS 64 for 1 additional unit.


Graduate Programs in Astronomy

Graduate programs in astronomy and astrophysics and related topics are carried out primarily in the Department of Physics but also the departments of Applied Physics and Electrical Engineering. Students should consult the course listings, degree requirements, and research programs of these departments for more detailed information.

Graduate research opportunities are available in many areas of theoretical and observational astronomy. For further information, see the Kavli Institute of Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology website.

Students planning to conduct research in astronomy and astrophysics should take:
Select one of the following: 3
Advanced Extragalactic Astrophysics and Cosmology
Students lacking a background in astrophysics, gravitation, and plasma physics should take:
PHYSICS 260Introduction to Stellar and Galactic Astrophysics3
PHYSICS 261Introduction to Cosmology and Extragalactic Astrophysics3
PHYSICS 262General Relativity3
PHYSICS 312Basic Plasma Physics (Not offered 2016-17)3
Students with special interests in gravitation should take:
PHYSICS 364Advanced Gravitation (Not offered 2016-17)3
GS 222Planetary Systems: Dynamics and Origins3-4

Each year a number of "special topics" course are offered.  Refer to courses in the PHYSICS 360 range for more details.  Students interested in research programs in space physics involving spacecraft studies of the planets, their satellites, and their near-space environments should see the "Center for Space Science and Astrophysics" section of this bulletin.

Emeriti: (Professors) Von R. Eshleman, Peter A. Sturrock, G. Leonard Tyler, Robert V. Wagoner

Professors: Tom Abel (Physics, SLAC), Steve Allen (Physics, SLAC), Roger Blandford (Physics, SLAC), Pat Burchat (Physics), Blas Cabrera (Physics), Sarah Church (Physics), Kent Irwin (Physics, SLAC), Steven Kahn (Physics, SLAC), Bruce Macintosh (Physics), Peter Michelson (Physics), Vahé Petrosian (Physics, Applied Physics), Roger W. Romani (Physics)

Associate Professors: Chao-Lin Kuo (Physics, SLAC), Risa Wechsler (Physics, SLAC)

Professor (Research): Philip H. Scherrer (Physics)

Astronomy Cognate Courses

Elementary Lectures

The following courses provide a descriptive knowledge of astronomical objects and astrophysics.  PHYSICS 15, PHYSICS 16, and PHYSICS 17 are for students not majoring in the sciences and are taught in different quarters by different instructors, and may be taken individually or in any order.

PHYSICS 15Stars and Planets in a Habitable Universe3
PHYSICS 16The Origin and Development of the Cosmos3
PHYSICS 17Black Holes and Extreme Astrophysics3


The following courses allow students to use the on-campus Stanford Student Observatory, and are intended to familiarize students with observational methods and analysis of astronomical data. PHYSICS 50  is for general students, while PHYSICS 100 involves more advanced observations and is intended for students with a college level background in physics.

PHYSICS 50Observational Astronomy Laboratory3
PHYSICS 100Introduction to Observational Astrophysics4

Advanced Undergraduate

The following courses are for students with a more advanced knowledge of basic physics and mathematics, and form the core courses for a concentration in astrophysics for Physics majors.

PHYSICS 160Introduction to Stellar and Galactic Astrophysics3
PHYSICS 161Introduction to Cosmology and Extragalactic Astrophysics3


PHYSICS 260Introduction to Stellar and Galactic Astrophysics3
PHYSICS 261Introduction to Cosmology and Extragalactic Astrophysics3
PHYSICS 262General Relativity3
PHYSICS 269Neutrinos in Astrophysics and Cosmology3
PHYSICS 301Astrophysics Laboratory3
PHYSICS 312Basic Plasma Physics (Not offered 2016-17)3
PHYSICS 361Cosmology (Not offered 2016-17)3
PHYSICS 362Advanced Extragalactic Astrophysics and Cosmology (Not offered 2016-17)3
PHYSICS 366Special Topics in Astrophysics: Statistical Methods2
PHYSICS 368Computational Cosmology and Astrophysics2